Thursday, October 19, 2017

Growing Old Ungracefully

Films: Kotch
Format: DVD from Somonauk Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

There are plenty of screen pairings that become legendary. Fred and Ginger, or Doris Day and Rock Hudson. One of the great screen pairings is Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, who made at least 10 movies together in one of the best comedy pairings in film history. It’s rather fitting, then, that when Jack Lemmon directed his first and only film, Kotch, that he got Walter Matthau to star in it. In that respect, Kotch is something of a collaboration between the two. It plays much like one of their comedies, with Lemmon’s typical role being taken by Deborah Winters.

Kotch is a clear example of a character study. There’s not a great deal of plot here, and there doesn’t have to be. Matthau carries the bulk of the film, and what he doesn’t carry, Winters handles surprisingly well. The entire point of the film is to get the audience to have warm, fuzzy feelings for our title character, get us to know and like him, and then get us through to an uplifting ending through joy and sadness. It’s a simple formula, and Kotch follows it carefully.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Wednesday Horror: Salem's Lot

Film: Salem’s Lot
Format: IFC on rockin’ flatscreen.

One of the reasons I enjoy horror movies is that I find them to be similar to roller coasters. They’re a huge adrenaline rushes. I am occasionally scared in the moment, but rarely for long, partly because I don’t have a belief in the supernatural. It’s rare that I find something truly scary, but the (surprise surprise) made-for-TV version of Salem’s Lot from 1979 qualifies. The truth is that I probably saw this when I was too young, so it’s one of those things that hits me on a more visceral level. It’s honestly probably not as frightening as I’m saying it is, but it’s something that always strikes me as being genuinely scary.

Here’s the thing: I don’t know why it works as well as it does. Certainly there are parts of it that I can say work really well for specific reasons. There are a couple of great jump scares and a few moments of building tension that work nearly perfectly, but as far as why the whole three-hour experience works as well as it does, I’m not sure. In a lot of ways, it shouldn’t. It almost seems like a joke to have this staring David Soul, most famous for playing Hutch on “Starsky and Hutch.” And yet it works. When I went through the They Shoot Zombies list, I was incredibly pleased to not just see this on the list, but to see it in the top-200 where it belongs.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Kiss My Grits

Films: Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
Format: Turner Classic Movies on rockin’ flatscreen.

When you think of Martin Scorsese, chances are good that you think of his more mob-related movies (Casino, Goodfellas) or his more violent films (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull). I would have never pegged him as the director of Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, a film that was eventually turned into a long-running television sit-com. I remember the show; my mom loved it. Naturally, I went into the movie thinking that it was going to be a clear inspiration for a good-natured show that took place in a diner. Well, I was wrong, and in this case, that’s not a bad thing.

What I didn’t know was that Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore was a project that was controlled almost from the start by Ellen Burstyn, who was still riding high from success in The Exorcist. Burstyn hand-picked Scorsese to direct, and Scorsese then surrounding himself with women to act in many important crew roles. The entire point behind the film was to make a film about a realistic woman with realistic problems.

Saturday, October 14, 2017


Films: Toni Erdmann
Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

When I finished the 1001 Movies list, I thought that I was done with really long foreign language movies. In the four years since finishing, there have been a few pretty long movies added, but only Leviathan approached the 150-minute mark and wasn’t in English. That’s until Toni Erdmann showed up. At 162 minutes, Toni Erdmann was a daunting undertaking. I won’t say I didn’t want to watch it, but I did have to check it out of the library twice. When I’m particularly busy with work, non-English movies are harder for me. I generally have to wait for a day off (I don’t get many as a teacher) or the end of a term. Since I want to complete the current 1001 additions before the end of the year, I bit the bullet.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

You'll Want to Escape, Though

Films: Escape Me Never
Format: Internet video on laptop.

When I drop back into the earliest years of Oscar, I generally know a couple of things. One thing I know, at least with a movie like Escape Me Never is that I’m watching a movie that probably no one reading this blog has seen. There is a version of this from the 1940s starring Errol Flynn and Ida Lupino that is much better known, but the version that was nominated for an Oscar for 1935, so that’s the one I watched. I think it’s safe to say there’s a reason that not a lot of people have seen this.

Oh, Escape Me Never isn’t terrible. One of the real problems is that it desperately needs to be restored based on the version that I was able to find online. At one point early in the film, we’re shown a letter that I’m sure is important to the plot, but there was no way in hell I could read it because of the blurry nature of this print. It’s a shame, and as I say whenever this happens, I do my best not to let something like technical difficulties do anything to affect my overall opinion of the film itself.